I was drawn to the work of Rudyard Kipling after finding a reference to his poem “Tommy” in Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War.
I wasn’t familiar with the poem—which inspired the title of the movie The Thin Red Line—so I searched it out. Now, I’m working my way through Rudyard Kipling Complete Verse (Anchor Books, 1989), one poem per day, while flossing and brushing my teeth.
Much of his work was written in the late 1800s, and is set in—or influenced by—his time in India, which means I don’t understand every line. But I enjoy trying to figure out the gist of each poem.
Once I’ve read it through, I go to The New Readers' Guide to the works of Rudyard Kipling, hosted by The Kipling Society, to get more info on the context and definitions of foreign, archaic, or slang words that aren’t footnoted in the text.
Understanding what was going on in the author’s world enriches my reading experience.
Here are seven of the reasons I read Kipling–and will eventually read other poets–while thwarting cavities.
1. Reading before bed is relaxing, but not if I get sucked in and stay up all night to finish the book—a common problem because I have no willpower to resist a good story. With poetry, it’s much easier to read one poem and close the book.
2. I hope that reading poetry will introduce me to new themes, as well as influence my more lyrical side.
3. Reading outside my genre, length, and style can only expand my skills as a writer, and the references upon which I can draw.
4. Poetry stretches your brain. Instead of speeding through the prose with a movie running in my head like I do with a novel or memoir, I’m forced to slow down and ponder each word. It’s like savoring a gourmet dessert rather than inhaling a plate of sugar cookies. Both are enjoyable, but in different ways.
5. By exploring the context of each poem, I’m also expanding my knowledge of history and the author’s life. Not all authors' works are so intensely influenced by their personal experiences, but Kipling seemed to view his life and everything around him as fodder for his art.
6. I’m inspired by the wide variety of themes and moods one author can produce. Kipling wrote satire, humor, lighthearted verse, dark tales, and diatribes.
7. I like knowing things. Period. I want to learn as much as I can about art, history, literature, science…
Probably one of the reasons I’m driven to write is because I love the research. I’m curious at heart. What’s it like to be firefighter, sculptor, pilot, accountant, billionaire’s daughter, or pararescueman? My inquiring mind wants to know.
And I love the connections my brain starts to make when I expand my horizons, just like the connections that brought me to read Kipling while brushing my teeth.